The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and a New Saxophone Concerto

Greetings and Happy November!

It’s been ages since I’ve gotten around to putting up a new post on my website. I can’t say that there’s a great reason for this, other than I have a PhD dissertation to write…

But there’s absolutely no excuse for me to keep silent about the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra’s next Master’s Series concert. This auspicious event demands more than a Facebook post or Instagram share on my account – let me tell you why:

On Saturday, November 25, the SSO will be premiering a new concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra. Here are four reasons why this is a big deal:

1. In case you are not aware, the saxophone is not widely accepted as an orchestral instrument. Following its official patent in 1846, and despite Adolphe Sax’s grand visions for his ground-breaking instrument, the saxophone has yet to earn a permanent position in the traditional symphony orchestra.

There are a handful of well-known orchestral works that feature a novel saxophone solo (e.g., Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and his orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances Op. 45, which you will also hear at this SSO concert!), but very few works truly incorporate the saxophone as a prominent voice in the wind section.

Orchestras around the world perform countless piano concertos and violin concertos throughout their seasons, and so it is rare to see not only saxophone concertos programmed, but also a brand-new saxophone concerto that the symphony organization went out of their way to specifically commission.

(On a side note, I’m proud to mention that the last time the SSO programmed a saxophone concerto was 2015, when I had the tremendous pleasure of performing Paul Creston’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra Op. 26 with the orchestra. And I have to say, this is still the coolest poster for a concert I’ve ever seen!)

2. The guest artist performing this new saxophone concerto is American saxophonist Timothy McAllister. In the era of social media, I feel that superlatives have somewhat lost their desired effect. With that in mind, I mean it when I say that Timothy McAllister is one of the world’s best saxophonists in the twenty-first century; to my ears and preference, his tone sets the bar for the sound of the classical saxophone. If you’re going to bring in a guest artist for a saxophone concerto, you can’t do much better.

3. The saxophone concerto – the full title is Whimsical Concerto of Fanciful Birds: Concerto for Saxophone, Orchestra, and Spatialized Saxophone Ensemble – was written by Canadian composer Vincent Ho. Vincent Ho is one of Canada’s finest composers of the twenty-first century; like I said about Timonthy McAllister, if you’re going to commission a Canadian composer to write a new work for your orchestra, you can’t do much better than Vincent Ho.

My first introduction to the music of Vincent Ho was a decade ago at the North American Saxophone Alliance (yes, the acronym is NASA) Region IX conference, hosted by the University in Saskatchewan back in 2013. Allen Harrington (another saxophone hero of mine) and his incredible musical collaborator, Laura Loewen, performed Ho’s Whimsical Sketches of Fanciful Birds (2012) for alto saxophone and piano. Their performance was stunning and left a lasting impression on me, especially as I began my journey later that year towards completing a Master of Music in saxophone performance.

How cool is it that just over a decade later, Vincent Ho writes a saxophone concerto to further explore his fascination with birds? If I’ve piqued your interest at all at this point, I strongly recommend attending his Music Talk with SSO CEO Mark Turner and the concert’s special guest conductor Robert Franz on November 21, where you’ll have a chance to hear more about Ho’s inspiration for the piece.

4. If you’re really paying close attention, you might have noticed a peculiar detail in the title of this work: Whimsical Concerto of Fanciful Birds: Concerto for Saxophone, Orchestra, and Spatialized Saxophone Ensemble. What is a “spatialized saxophone ensemble”? Exactly what it says: Timothy McAllister and the SSO will be placed on the main stage of TCU Place’s Sid Buckwold Theatre, and six saxophonists will be strategically placed among the upper balconies of the hall.

I am very grateful to join my close friends and mentors to perform in the spatialized saxophone ensemble. The overall effect is to contribute a stereo soundscape of Ho’s “fanciful birds” throughout the performance of the piece. Not only will you hear a world-class saxophone soloist with the SSO (which I already mentioned is a pretty rare occasion), you’ll have the opportunity to hear SIX additional saxophonists perform at the world premiere of this unique piece!

If I’ve convinced you to attend this concert, you can get your tickets here.  If I haven’t convinced you, send me a message so that I can send you more reasons to check out this truly once-in-a-lifetime concert experience.

The last time I went to fill up my car with gas, I noticed a lottery advertisement near the pump that asked a question: What would you do with $1,000 a day for life? My first thought was to purchase a set of gold-plated saxophones. As I write this post, my second thought is to buy as many tickets as there are seats in TCU Place for people to come see this concert.

I’m (not that) sorry to say that I didn’t buy a lottery ticket, but I hope that I’ve convinced you to consider getting a ticket for this incredible concert on November 25!